The ‘presbyterianism’ of Richard Heyrick

By James Mawdesley, The University of Sheffield

N.B. References in brackets refer to The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652, ed. Chad van Dixhoorn (5 vols., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

I have recently been fortunate enough to have access to Chad van Dixhoorn’s new edition of the minutes of the Westminster Assembly, and it struck me how over the next few years, it will be interesting to see what use scholars make of the minutes, and what details lie within a primary source which had previously only been utilised in manuscript form by the most dedicated of researchers.

Manchester Cathedral (the former collegiate church), with Heyrick's memorial brass

Manchester Cathedral (the former collegiate church), with Heyrick’s memorial brass

The intention of this brief blog post is to highlight a small example of what details can be found within the minutes, and how the minutes might be used to adapt our understanding of the careers of individual clerics. Richard Heyrick had been appointed in 1635 as the warden of the Manchester collegiate church, and is well known as one of the leading lights of the classical presbyterian system which was established in Lancashire in 1646 (the year in which episcopacy was abolished). Within the Lancashire province, the Manchester classis (under Heyrick’s watch) continued to function until the summer of 1660, just after the restoration of Charles II to the throne. Though he did not participate in the Westminster Assembly to the same extent as his fellow member for Lancashire, Charles Herle (the rector of Winwick), he was nonetheless a relatively regular attendee of its debates. It was during these debates that Heyrick made two particularly interesting contributions.

Whilst the wording of the minutes are not entirely clear, in a debate on the Solemn League and Covenant on 3 October 1643, Heyrick seems to raise the issue of whether it was right to tender an oath which stood contrary to the law (ii. 162). The Covenant’s commitment to the abolition of episcopacy was an obvious point of conflict with the law as it then stood. Just over a month later, on 13 November 1643, whilst debating the topic ‘Whether the church of England be a true church’ (ii. 305), Heyrick commented ‘It is professed that archbishops are Antichristian; if I did beleive it, I should deny my ministry’ (ii. 307).

To historians of Lancashire presbyterianism, there had previously been little evidence to allow for differentiation between Herle and Heyrick: after all, they had both become active presbyterians after the classical system was established in Lancashire. However, the Assembly minutes now reveal that whilst Herle adopted a consistently anti-episcopal line, even announcing to the Assembly on 6 December 1643 that ‘The Bishops [are] against the word of Christ’ (ii. 412), Heyrick’s attitude towards episcopacy is more problematic. What are we thus to make of Heyrick? The autobiography of the Lancashire presbyterian minister Adam Martindale, printed by the Chetham Society in 1845, offers an interesting observation. Martindale recalled that at the time when the classical presbyterian system was being established in Lancashire around 1646, Heyrick declared that he was ‘so perfect a Latitudinarian as to affirme that the episcopall presbyterians and independents might all practice according to their own judgements, yet each by divine right’.

It would be interesting to know how many other ministers shared Heyrick’s view that there were multiple systems of church government which had been appointed by God. Whilst Heyrick was perhaps unusual in his proclaimed latitude of belief, it does remind the historian that ministers’ moves from conformity to episcopalianism to conformity to presbyterianism was often far more complex than simply revealing one’s true colours. Indeed, one wonders if Heyrick ever really became convinced by presbyterianism, and if adopting a latitudinarian stance may simply have been a sensible way to salve his conscience after it had become clear that episcopacy was doomed. It will probably come as no surprise to readers to find out that after over a decade of active presbyterianism coupled with alleged pro-Stuart intrigue, Heyrick conformed to the Church of England after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, retaining his wardenship at Manchester until his death in 1667.


Anne Page

Anne Dunan-Page is Professor of early modern British studies at Aix-Marseille University

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